Intro

Ashley E. Rodriguez: Artisan Sweets is approaching one year of business and with that comes a lot of reflection and analysis as to how things will change in the year to come and even… will there be another year to come?

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Well… let’s be serious…there will be more to come. I am excited for all the wonderful summer clients I have already booked and I look forward to all the cakes and desserts I have planned for them.

If you know me at all you would know that I spend a lot of time (probably too much) thinking. Currently I have been spending a lot of time analyzing my first year in business…. what went well, what needs to change, how can I get more business, how can I be less busy, and how can I make money doing this?

Let me really stress here that I love what I do. I love being in the kitchen. I walk away from an afternoon of swirling around the kitchen dancing from stove to oven to mixer and sink with more energy than I had before I began. I love being an artist with food as my medium. I live for food, good food. Pure, natural, God-created food that I mix, stir, whip, combine and bake to create simple and elegant sweets to entertain the taste buds of my clients and friends.

I love reading the shelves and shelves of baking books I have looking for inspiration and ideas. I roam the internet for new information and pastry experts whom I admire mightily asking them questions and picking their talented brains for tips, techniques, encouragement and inspiration.

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I originally began this business for one reason… I couldn’t imagine not doing it. After having trained at Spago moving back to Bellingham was a big adjustment. I anticipated this and thought the only way I could continue being happy doing pastry was to go at it alone because no other restaurant in Bellingham was ready for the caliber of desserts I knew I had to make. Not trying to sound egotistical – it’s just that I had tasted and used the finest and I wasn’t (and am not) willing to use anything else than the best even though I am not creating desserts in an area where those ideals are always appreciated – let alone having the customer base who is willing to pay the price for such high quality.

So as I reflect I am dealing with a couple of issues. First of all how the hell am I suppose to ever make any money doing this? – Which isn’t the reason for why I began my business… but now as my husband is planning on quitting his job in April to pursue photography full time we feel a bit more pressure to be making money (that’s a bit understated).

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This past December I felt as if I was in the kitchen everyday. Party for 300 here… 9 gallons of Chocolat Chaud there… tarts, cakes, cookies, pies, etc. And as I settle up my books I wonder… Where did all the money go? Well, I know this, and everyone tells me, that I don’t charge enough. But I can’t imagine if I really set my product to have a 30%+ food cost that anyone would be willing to pay that much (again, because I use the finest and am not willing to sacrifice that).

So … where is the money going to come from? – That’s the first question. The second is about my priorities… I am a wife and a new mother. In both of those areas of my life I feel that I am slacking. Currently there are dust bunnies on the shelves, dishes in the sink, beds un-made, clothes dirty and clothes clean to be folded. I have been stressed which is then taken out on my husband. I have been exhausted: mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I have not been the friend I want to be… the wife I want/need to be and the mother I should be. Often I have used the analogy that I feel as if I am juggling numerous balls .. they are all in the air (barely) and at any moment they could all come crashing down. I am in a constant state of trying to keep up – and not keeping up with any of it. So even with my business I have created this attitude of doing it just to get it done so that I may be able to get on the the next task that I have yet to complete.

Are these “normal” feelings for a business owner or am I feeling a bit of a nudge that it is the time in my life to bow out gracefully and say good-bye to a dream that was so close so that I may focus on the things that I have said are my number one priorities? As I write this tears come to my eyes at the thought of saying good-bye to a passion… to a love.. to a dream.

I came so close… nothing was as hard or as easy to say good-bye to than the offer of pastry chef at Spago. I knew that I could not be the mother I wanted to be if I accepted that offer… I also knew that I would always wonder what that would have been like to have such a desired and respected position. But it wasn’t even a question. I knew the answer was no.. so I guess I thought maybe having this little pastry business would be the best of both worlds… I could continue to bake while also being a more present mother.

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I apologize for the wordiness confusion and ups and downs but it is a mirror image of the battle within me. An ever present quest to seek the best path for my life and now for the life of my family as well.

My desire is to do what is best for my family without having a sense of resentment towards them because of the sacrifices that I have had to make… but maybe that is something I have to deal with myself. I hope for peace about whichever way this pans out and for clarity.

I appreciate those who have taken the time to read this. My intention for writing this is not to seek out encouraging words that tell me to “hang in there”. But I hope to receive genuine thoughts as to how others in similar situations have dealt with these feelings. Mothers who have struggled with working while raising children. Wives who feel spread to thin and people who have the same analytical tendencies that I have… at least then we can analyze together – whatever good that would do us?! :)

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22 Responses to “A Business Owner’s Dilema”

  1. Kimberley

    Thanks for your very honest blog. All of the dilemmas that you describe are my fears. I was in admin for 16 years and left it to pursue something that I am more passionate about. I just graduated from culinary and pastry school and am learning that creating artisan products and making money from them can be tricky. The bigger issue is what happens when you add a child into the equation, as I am not yet a mother.

    While I am not offering much advice to help you, your post is extremely useful for people like me who are considering this route. I get inspiration from Pamela Slim’s blog http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/ Perhaps it will help you. Best of luck!

    Reply
  2. TheaR

    Of course I’ll help however I can, you know that. And that’s a standing offer.

    From one overthinker to another: one thing I’ve learned, in the land of overanalyzing absolutely everything (I am incurably one of those), is that sometimes the trick is to sit quietly and simply consider each option. How does Option A make me feel? Panicked, overwhelmed? What about Option B? Peaceful and relieved? I think God quietly nudges like that, if you listen and if you let him, and I always have a stronger sense of courage and purpose (and enthusiasm) when I’m pointed in a solid direction and I know God is leading me.

    There’s my two cents. Know that I’m praying for you in your decision, whichever you choose.

    Reply
  3. artisansweets

    Kimberley – Thanks for that link! I’ve just started to look at it. It is encouraging to hear others deal with similar issues – although it’s hard stuff to wrestle with and I don’t wish these feelings on anyone else.. it is just comforting knowing that I am not alone in all these hard decisions.

    Thea – That is really good advice. I always get a bit more analytical and try to make life changing decisions around this time of the year – I think it’s all the gray! :) So I do just need to wait, rest and pray. Things will be so different once Gabe isn’t working two jobs also. So we’ll see. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. kkrombein

    Hey Ash,
    As I read your blog, I am feeling the stress of what you’re thinking about. I don’t think you are over-analyzing, by the way, I think these are some of the real issues that we as women wrestle with as we contemplate what it means to have a homeward orientation of being a wife and mother, and hold down another full time job–even if it’s something that we’re passionate about. Being a wife and mother is a full time job in itself!!!

    For me to finish 4 yrs of college, 3 yrs of graduate school and have this expensive degree and then to wonder why I did it all as I look in Blaise’s face is such a tension to be in. Contrastingly, for me to sit across from someone that I’m counseling seems like such a full use of my skills and what God has gifted me to do–at that moment, Blaise is a distant part of my life, and my housework is the least important thing on my mind…it’s a tough dilemma.

    For advice or encouragement…let’s see…an acquaintance once asked me (in one of those random and brief “rock your world” moments) if it was pride that kept me pursuing my other work–pride in the money I make, the accomplishment of helping someone, or in just having something else outside the home to give my life meaning…I constantly now analyze my motives in what I am spending my time doing, and I think she was right–I do find some level of pride in that other work that isn’t given to me when I tell someone at a party that I am a stay at home mom…And so I’m constantly contemplating what I’m ultimately called to do…sometimes I see those years of school as a waste of money on my family, sometimes I see them as a huge value in growing me up into the person I am now…being a trained counselor will hopefully make me a better wife and mother. Being an amazing culinary artist will make you a better wife and mother…All I can say now is I fight for balance in it as I work at home and outside of it. For this season of my life, I counsel 1 morning a week. That’s all I can handle, on top of holding together our “fort.” I want to do more when I see the need at church, but I know that my family needs me too–Blaisey will only be this size for so long, and he and Jon are my first priority. Later on if we have more kids, I may not be able to do anything outside the home for another season of life…and then I may come back to it all later. If you charge a higher wage, you may find a smaller niche market of people who can afford to appreciate your work, and that smaller market may be the lower work load that you need–but who knows how that will really work out? It seems scary to raise your prices and wonder if people will respond. I certainly don’t know the Bellingham market as well as you do…anywho, those are my thoughts, as I struggle with a similar situation alongside you…many prayers for you guys as you work through this.
    ~Katie

    Reply
  5. amanda

    ashley, i have certainly never gone through anything you’re going through and have no wonderful words of wisdom, but i just wanted to throw a thought out there. have you ever considered looking into an online upscale shop where you deliver all over the country? i know that there is certainly a lack of truly high-quality artisan-crafted online pastry shops. you would certainly be able to charge more and reach a larger cliental. you could even make it so the cliental had to contact you to set up an order and you could deny the order if you were receiving too much work. i know it must be incredible stressful but surly there is a way for you to keep the same incredible product you craft and make enough at the same time! you pastries are just too fantastic not too!

    Reply
  6. Ellie

    Never having been in this situation, I can’t say that I know how you feel, but I just wanted to say that I admire you for wanting to think about the sitution and do what is best for all when so many others would have (and have done) given up on their dreams because it was too hard. My own mother was one of those people, and she always tells me now that if at all possible, I should try and find a way to make my dreams work for me.

    I also think that Ashley’s idea is quite a good one. If not national distribution, perhaps taking samples to restaurants in your town and surrounding areas and seeing if they would like to source their desserts from you?

    Reply
  7. Brittany

    I had the opportunity to meet with Steven Moore yesterday and I viewed his work as well as yours. Let me begin by saying that it is was a very refreshing experience for me.

    My passion is print design and paper and I began my business two short years ago. My event invitations are handmade with the utmost care. I always exlpore a range of non-traditional materials such as beading and fabric. The past two years have been good to me but I am beginning this year with mixed feelings. Steve told me yesterday, “You need to charge more!” Somehow I feel it’s not that easy, I find myself at your same crossroads. I am also a mother of two little girls ages two and half and 16 months.

    I am always excited to learn about someone who has a passion for what they do and in turn churns out such high caliber work. I would love to meet you and your son! We could chat business, kids, let it be casual. I would love to be able to refer some of my clients to you. My contact information can be found on my website: http://www.dolcedesign.net

    In the mean time best of luck to you, although from what I have seen, your work speaks for itself!

    Reply
  8. artisansweets

    Thank you all for your kind and insightful words. It means so much to hear such encouragement and wisdom from people such talented people.
    I will keep you all updated as to what will come of all of this…. but it is probably something I will continue to think and pray over for quite some time. :)
    Thanks again. I really value all of you who visit this site and take the time to comment.

    Reply
  9. Rachael

    Goodness how well timed. I just had a near break down of frustration tonight as I realized what it means to be realistic about my goals. I am in a PhD program in a science field, have always had tremendously high aspirations. Now am slowly realizing (having just gotten engaged) that I am very good at more than one thing. I’ve always tried to do it all, have so many talents, be such a well rounded person, and I’ve been able to hold it together just barely…but maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore. Maybe I don’t want to live my life so continuously stressed, so near tears all the time, so close to snapping at everyone around me. I went to a bookstore to try to find a biography of some woman, someone who had done it, some complete story of having an impact on the scientific world and an impact in their own personal lives as well. And I couldn’t find a single one that had done it in a way I wanted to do it.

    Anyway, I needn’t describe my feelings to you to be able to tell you, I know exactly how you feel and it is a struggle faced by so many women today. Now we have choices, or so we thought. They’re not really choices like we want them to be, because what we want isn’t really possible (career, family, relationship and happiness).

    My way to deal? Allow myself to be upset sometimes, which is hard to do (I always want to push away the feelings, hold on to the hope). Sometimes I think my struggle with this is a struggle accept the world in its fallibility, and, for the first time, my own limitations. I’ve never been limited before, yet as I try to attempt so many things at once, find I am good in so many different arenas of life, I realize I am limited in the amount of energy I can devote to one thing. I have to choose.

    Second thing. “It will get better”. I know you said you didn’t want that kind of advice, but truly, it will get better. Even without logic, even with logic, whatever you choose to do to change your situation or keep it how it is… it will all get better with time, or so experience has told me. It calms me tremendously to have a time limit. For instance, I know for myself that right now I have one year to decide a particular thing about my career. Can you give yourself some time? A good long amount, say, 6 months or more. Tell yourself you will be logical about this – describe your emotions in a journal – but don’t feel pressure to make a decision. 6 months from now, look back, reflect, and have a record of how you felt in those 6 months. You might be surprised.

    Good luck.
    Rachael

    Reply
  10. Malini

    I have only recently started reading your blog. From the pictures that I have seen and words I have read, I gather that you are super talented and hard working. As a business owner myself I know all of us face this dilemma. Yours is a bit more serious since you will be the only earning member of your family for some time till your husband gets stabilized.

    So here are my two cents worth.

    It would be CRIMINAL to give up on your dream, especially when you have so much potential to excel. I seriously suggest you make it work. Get a sitter, if possible cajole your mum or the next nearest relative to help you with you child. Once you are satisfied professinally and earning a bundle of cash-your self esteem will take a huge jump. Just because you are a new mother does not mean you need to give up your passion for your son.

    In fact as your child grows up and sees you committed to your career, it will motivate him and he will also feel very proud.

    Believe me, if you give this up, you will regret it at the smallest corner of your heart forever.

    Best of Luck.

    Reply
  11. Brandi

    Hey Ash! Just catching up on your blog and thought maybe I’d leave a little comment. I too struggle at times with working outside my home. Mostly out of necessity, but I actually love my job as well. It give me a chance to get out and contribute to society and catch a bit of a break from my wife and Motherly duties. I think the key for me is balance. I really liked the advice of raising your prices so you could make more while working less. I know it’s hard and scary and I personally suck at it, but you work hard and make amazing sweets and I think people will and should pay for it! The nice thing about both our jobs is we can work as much or as little as we want. It’s just that the word “no” sometimes isn’t in my vocabulary and it sounds like it maybe hard for you to say it too! I’ll be thinking of you and hope to see you soon and see how you’re doing! Love you! Brandi

    Reply
  12. GB

    Ashley, what a wonderful, honest, heartfelt post. I can see also that your struggles touch a deep chord in a lot of other ambitious, talented young adults. I am in a different place–looking back at those very same struggles. I say same, they are not mostly because I am a man and you are a woman. But I started my business when my youngest child of three was born. A stunningly beautiful child who, like her two brothers, was filled with potential and needed a father to be there for them.

    It was a struggle–herculean at times. Often terribly discouraging. At one point when I had laid off my few employees and the bank told me to pack it in, I sat at my desk and cried. But I didn’t quit, I didn’t go get a job as probably would have been smart. I kept at it. Many times, the opportunities before me were severely limited by my commitment to my wife and kids. I didn’t travel much at all, though doing so would have had a huge impact at key times. But my family was more important and I don’t regret those sacrifices. I do regret one thing–too much worry, too much thinking, too much uncertainty and doubt. These things took too much of the joy of the journey as well as the mental time away from my precious family.
    I have no great answers for you. Sometimes the expectations of perfection are dangerous. Trying to be the very best at everything could lead you to a sense of utter failure just when you are succeeding the most. I suspect you are a great parent, actually, I know you are a great mother as well as a great chef.
    I should know, since you are the mother of my grandson and you are that stunningly beautiful daughter.
    Put the worry hat away, keep on with your dreams, and enjoy each day for the great gift it is.

    Reply
  13. artisansweets

    Once again thanks for all the wonderful thoughts and pearls of wisdom. I have realized more than ever that I can’t give this up! It was never for the money anyway. It is my passion and if I stop pursuing my passion than I am not the person I want to be. As an artist I need an outlet… something to keep my hands busy… something to focus on… something to strive for. Without this who I am as a person suffers… therefore who I am as a mother and a wife suffers as well.
    The hope is someday this venture will bring in some income, but in the meantime it has allowed me to invest in my art, purchase some fun toys (i.e. the tempering machine) and keep the skills I have learned thus far fresh and alive. I have also met such amazing people… i.e. all of you! So thanks again! Thanks for the encouragement and for telling me how foolish I would be if I gave it up. I needed to hear that.

    Reply
  14. Jacqi

    Ashley,

    Reading your blog really struck me because of a conversation I had with my mom last night. My mom went through the dilemma of whether to pursue her dream of going to college when my sister and I were little ones. She made the decision to pursue her art degree (and went all the way to through her doctorate for psychology). She was in school and gone a lot since I can remember. The reason I am writing this is because I know that she has always felt so much guilt for not being a great housewife, or “there for her children” all the time, she wasn’t able to fulfill my dad’s expectations of keeping the house clean or being organized. I never realized how much guilt she felt until I went to college. It makes me sick that she feels so guilty from the societal pressures that tell her what she should be good at and what she should be as a wife and a mother. I told her last night that I wouldn’t trade what she accomplished and the inspiration and example she set for us for a clean house or better dinners, or anything like that. There is no one I respect more than her and it is because of her that I understand and am passionate about biblical gender equality that so many churches seem to have backwards. Anyway, I know you have decided to keep on with your passion and I am so happy to hear it! My hope is that you wont fall prey to the guilt trap that haunts so many women from our society.

    Reply
  15. lee

    Hello! I recently started reading your blog and this post definitely struck a cord. I have worked as a pastry chef in the past and now I am on my second entrepreneurial adventure, making preserves. I am hoping for the best and correcting mistakes that I made the first time around but I too struggle with the self- doubt and how can I really charge what my goods are worth?!! And most days I just want to be in the kitchen but I’m still working two other jobs and now I need to focus on ordering jars and designing labels and getting a website up. I don’t know know how you do everything and have a baby. My business is my baby!
    I have been documenting my progress on my food blog- here is a link to a post where I talk about how I ended up making preserves:
    http://welcometomypantry.blogspot.com/2007/01/preserving-year-round.html

    What a wonderful father you have! (Mine’s pretty great too but he doesn’t read my blog!) Good luck and hold onto that passion.

    Reply
  16. Jennifer

    Ashley – I came across your blog b/c I am looking for a used tempering machine in Seattle to get my own chocolate business off the ground. Do you have any equipment you are trying to unload?

    You should pick up The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I am feeling glad to have read it before getting my start – and it seems like it could give you some helpful tips about how to manage your growing business without doing all of the work yourself and allowing you some down time to do other things. Of course – easier said than done – but there is some sound advise and perspective if you read between the lines.

    Best regards,
    Jennifer

    Reply
  17. artisansweets

    Jennifer – Sorry, I do not have any used machines. This was my first purchase. I would love to help in whatever other ways I can. I would also love to hear more about your business.
    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    Reply
  18. Sherry

    hey there,

    how the heck are you!!!
    checked out your site!
    whats news!

    are you moving ahead on the plan?

    kisses to BABERS and Bar(r)on
    Sherry

    Reply
  19. Beth in NC

    Hi, I totally stumbled on your blog and thought I’d write to find out how you are 2 years later!

    Reply

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